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Pinelands Commission Releases Damage Report for Wharton State Forest



Visual representation of data submitted to the Pinelands Commission

The Pinelands Commission has released the first official ORV damage report for a Pinelands area at their monthly meeting on October 14, 2016. Robyn Jenny, a Resource Planner, GIS mapped and confirmed data sets provided by the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, Pinelands Commission Staff, and Pinelands Commissioner Richard Prickett.

The data that we provided was painstakingly documented from aerial photographs and confirmed by in-the-field site visits. This combined effort provided over 200 individual locations within the State forest that have suffered from off-road vehicle abuse. The damaged locations had concentrations within the Batsto Natural Area, Sandy Ridge Natural Heritage Priority Site, and the West Wading River Natural Heritage Priority Site.

The sensitivities of the areas mapped indicate the importance of enacting management that will curtail further damage and allow previously abused areas a chance to heal. According to the DEP, reports to the DEP Hotline in Wharton State Forest are up 35% from 2012 to 2016. It is clear that the DEP needs support, and the Commission has, within its regulations, the authority to provide that support with a map. It is imperative that the Commission acts now. There are a number of strategies that the Commission may pursue in its efforts to curtail illegal and damaging use, but the foremost among these is to decide on a map that will guide the designation of which forest paths (roads) are acceptable for street-legal motorized use. At Commission meetings this year, there has been much discussion on the pre-existing maps that could accomplish that goal, including the recently developed Wharton Motorized Access Plan map, the most recent USGS (United States Geologic Survey) 2014 topographical maps, as well as legacy USGS topographical maps.

Here are a few points about each map.

Wharton Motorized Access Plan Map

  • Highly detailed and accurate, mapped with GPS technology.
  • Routes created in conjunction with the State Forest Fire Service to ensure safety during fire outbreaks.
  • Routes reviewed and approved by DEP’s Land Management Review for impact to endangered and threatened species.
  • GIS files are easily loadable into an App for mobile use and would be updatable based on current conditions
  • Updated to mark new features in the State Forest such as camping areas, Wilderness Areas, Natural Areas, hiking trails, biking trails, and horseback riding trails.

USGS 2014 Topographic Map at 24:000:1 Scale

  • This most recent effort by the USGS used TomTom’s Multinet Mapping service to document routes with a combination of a mobile mapping van and high-resolution aerial imagery.
  • Routes are based on navigability, not historic use.
  • This map has far fewer motorized miles than either the Motorized Access Plan map or the 1997 USGS map.
  • No marking of camping areas, Wilderness Areas, Natural Areas, hiking trails, biking trails, or horseback riding trails.

Legacy USGS 1953-1997 USGS Topographic Maps

  • Based upon data gathered by field observers in the early 1950s
  • Total of seven 7.5 minute quad maps that cover Wharton State Forest. Only four were reprinted in 1997. Maps from the 53-58 printing could be used to fill in gaps.
  • This road data was gathered  during the 1950’s before the Comprehensive Management Plan(CMP) took effect, which would be consistent with the grandfathering of pre-existing uses that is allowed for in other parts of the CMP.
  • This will have more motorized routes than any of the other two maps and some routes will not be navigable by even standard 4×4 vehicles.
  • No marking of camping areas, Wilderness Areas, Natural Areas, hiking trails, biking trails, or horseback riding trails.
  • Some areas will still be vulnerable to ORV abuse and will not be able to be patrolled by police vehicles.

The Motorized Access Plan map is in our view the clear winner. However, any of these maps would be a significant improvement over the current situation. It is up to the Commission at this point to decide which map makes sense from an environmental, practical, and political perspective. We will strongly support the selection of either of these maps by the Pinelands Commission to help stem the tide of abuse that is degrading vast areas of the Pinelands National Reserve.


The Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan gives the Commission the authority to do this.

Section 7:50-6.143 states the following:

  1. No motor vehicle other than fire, police or emergency vehicles or those vehicles used for the administration or maintenance of any public land shall be operated upon publicly owned land within the Pinelands. Other motor vehicles may operate on public lands for recreational purposes on public highways and areas on land designated prior to August 8, 1980 for such use by state and local governmental entities until designated as inappropriate for such use under (a) 3 below.
  2. The Commission shall from time to time designate areas which are inappropriate for use of motor vehicles. Such designation shall be based upon the following considerations and upon consultation with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and other interested persons:

           i. A need to protect a scientific study area;
           ii. A need to protect the location of threatened or endangered plant or animal species;
           iii. A need to provide a wilderness recreational area;
           iv. A need to prevent conflicts with adjoining intensively used recreational areas;
           v. A need to protect historic or archaeological sites;
           vi. A need to protect critical wildlife habitats;
           vii. A need to address a situation of public health and safety;
           viii. A need to protect extensively disturbed areas from further impact; and
           ix. The extent to which such road closure would substantially impair recreation access to and uses of surrounding resources.

3 responses to “Pinelands Commission Releases Damage Report for Wharton State Forest”

  1. Bill says:

    I’m glad they tried to do this, but the Pine Barrens is over a million acres. 200 hundred sites is exponentially low compared to reality. It looks like there are 2 markers near me, but off the top of my head I can count at least twelve direct impacts to the charismatic T&E species, and their habitats. If I include less popular species, erosion, and all the other stuff? Forget about it, I’ll undoubtedly beat that number in a day. Just don’t make me do it on foot!

  2. Lee Yeash says:

    I am an avid hiker, camper and kayaker who enjoys the pinelands very much. I recently took an access road based on a pamphlet of Wharton State Forest but got lost and found impassable roads due to deep puddling and sugar sand despite that it was listed as an access road on the pamphlet. I would have loved to have had a map that listed roads that were passable and avoided the terror I felt in being lost and stranded. I also am very upset when I am out in the Pine Barrens and go through a beautiful area that a little further down is destroyed by ORV. I pick up a lot of trash but I can’t carry out car parts or fix the destruction to the landscape. A comprehensive plan and map are essential.

  3. Robert Mode says:

    I would encourage the use of the Wharton Motorized Access Plan Map for proper enforcement of use of trails and roads. As a Pine Barrens hiker and off roader I would welcome this info for myself and for law enforcement authorities. The use of the latest technology with updated maps only seems obvious. Thank You, Robert Mode

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